Texas pregnancy-related deaths inflated, new study finds

Houston Chronicle | By Todd Ackerman
April 10, 2018

Texas’ crisis of pregnancy-related deaths is not nearly as bad as previously reported, according to a new study.

The new data, calculated by state health officials and published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology Monday, found the actual number of maternal deaths is less than half that reported in a 2016 study that drew national attention to the issue in Texas.

Study authors who reviewed the cases said dozens of women erroneously were identified on their death certificates as being pregnant at the time of death, a misclassification that occurred because doctors, medical examiners and coroners selected the wrong option in the electronic reporting system. Such information was the source for a high-profile 2016 study.

“It is clear that Texas does not have the worst maternal mortality in the developed world and that previous reports were grossly inaccurate,” said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who authored 2017 legislation to extend a task force investigating the issue “We as a state can and are doing more to improve maternal health outcomes.”

The new data found 56 pregnancy-related deaths among Texas residents in 2012, compared to 147 the health department previously supplied to national databases. As a result, the 2012 rate becomes 14.6 deaths per 100,000live births, significantly down from the the previously reported rate of 38.4.

Under the old data, the 2016 study found a doubling of the number of deaths in just two years that its lead author said was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval.” Some observers attempted to link the increase to the closure of some women’s health clinics at the time, but state officials noted the closures did not occur until after much of the spike already had occurred.

The study nevertheless made headlines around the country and globe and put pressure on state legislators to address maternal mortality.

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